Here’s a lightweight project plan template I created to help with our cross country move. Feel free to use and enhance!
I have not written a chess improvement post for the last two years, and for good reason — I haven’t made much improvement! Here are my ratings compared to the previous post two years ago:
- USCF: 1576 was 1452
- Lichess Rapid: 1995 (No Rapid Rating)
- Lichess Classical: 2008 was 1955
This is measly progress for two years, and although I have put in time, and taken lessons – I haven’t done enough studying to break the current plateau. My goal is to reach 2100 in 21, and to do this I need to put in a lot more hours in simply studying chess, and that’s my intention. Put in 5 to 10 hours of studying time every week, and play less, and when I do play – play long play games only.
The biggest takeaway for me was that it is this thing called grit, and not talent that determines our success in life, and I loved this equation from the book that explains what this is all about:
Chess analogies come easy to me so I’ll take one to explain the equation. About an year or so ago I saw this video embedded below where Danny Rensch puts a blindfold on and tells you what color a square on the board is, and moves the knight from one square to another in his head. Here’s the video below for all of you to understand what I’m talking about. Just watch it for a minute or so even if you are not into Chess to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
When I first saw this I thought well this is impossible for most people. That’s what I really thought – it seemed like some sort of a magic trick.
But then I thought I can at least memorize the co-ordinates and colors because that seems a little more doable, and I’ve in fact blogged about my CAGE even is white method that I came up with to do this and I found that not only was it doable it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected it to be.
So, if you think back to the first part of the equation there’s certain innate talent that you have for anything which was vizualization in this case, and you take that talent and multiply it with effort, and build a skill. Now in tournaments I see many 10 year olds who probably took a tenth of the time I took to learn the color of every square, but it doesn’t matter because you put more effort into it, and achieve the same skill level.
So, that’s the first part of the equation and my analogy. The second part is that the skill is a means to an end, so in my case I wanted to improve this visualization skill to improve my chess results. So, now you have this skill and you further multiply it with effort which is playing tournament games and applying this skill to get to achievement.
When I look at it this way – the equation makes total sense to me!
To take a business analogy – I am sure a lot of you have heard about the feedback sandwich where you provide feedback in the following manner:
Now I’ve known this method for more than 15 years but knowing is not doing, so in a way it takes very little talent to understand this skill, but it takes effort to practice and internalize it, and then when you use it over and over again it becomes second nature, and your achievement would be to become someone who’s good to providing constructive feedback to their colleagues.
So, while reading this book I made a note that I’ll be deliberate about providing feedback in this manner, and I’ve found that it has greatly helped internalize it because I looked at it in the form of this equation.
The idea above was the one that most resonated with me from this book, but there were several other things that I came across that I had read before that helped form a more integrated view of them in my mind. For example – Angela Duckworth mentions Martin Seligman early on in the book, and I do highly recommend Learned Optimism to anyone interested in positive psychology, and Tal Ben Shahar’s book (my review here) and lectures are a further resource on this as well.
Another interesting idea she mentions is Amy W’s job crafting which I came across earlier this year while reading either Prof. Ben Shahar or Shawn Achor and here’s a very nice video where she explains her idea.
All in all I really loved this book not only for its own idea but also for how it weaves together other ideas in the area of positive psychology and paints a comprehensive picture for you.
HTRYC (How to Reassess Your Chess) is widely regarded as a modern classic, and is one of the best books on positional imbalances available to amateurs. I have had this book for about two years now, and I couldn’t get through it in my first attempt of reading it. I found the material too hard, and was just not able to get through the chapters when I first started reading it.
This time around though not only was I able to understand the concepts I really enjoyed reading the book as well. So much so that while reading the book I much preferred reading the book to playing chess!
One of the revelations for me has been that positional skills are a lot easier to learn than I always thought them to be. I’ve always looked at positional chess as somewhat mysterious and enigmatic, and thought that this is for players at the very highest levels, and is not so easily understood by amateurs. However, the book proves that this is not true, and in fact towards the end Silman himself states the following:
I tend to place very high level calculation under the umbrella of “talent”, while positional skills are something everyone can learn and excel at.
So, how do you go about learning positional skills and excelling in them?
By understanding imbalances.
Silman defines imbalance as any significant difference in the two respective positions, and the book details out the following imbalances:
- Control of a weak square
- Pawn Structure
- Superior Minor Piece
- Control of a key file
- King Safety
- Lead in development
- Statics vs Dynamics
I have listed down the imbalances in the order that I understand them and understanding and practicing these imbalances have greatly helped my game. This is a great book that I would very highly recommend to all players.
I spent an amazing Saturday morning with the 2020 class of Goa Institute of Management doing their MBA in Big Data Analytics, and it was an absolute delight to interact with students from my alma mater, and answer their questions.
I was incredibly impressed with range and depth of their questions, and during the conversation I provided a lot of references, so I thought it would be useful if I wrote a post linking to them here.
If you were in the discussion, and remember a question or reference that I made that’s not listed here, please feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll add it here. And with that, here are the questions I remember, in no particular order.
How do you build happy teams particularly in the times of this pandemic?
I spoke about servant leadership, and how it lends itself particularly well to the current times because as a servant leader your focus is on serving your team, and this is the primary ingredient in building a happy team. Read this introduction to servant leadership as a concept, and then this paper to see how you can objectively measure the impact of servant leadership on your team’s psychological health.
How are companies changing their onboarding to be fully virtual?
I was extremely excited by this question because I got to share my own experience with the fantastic onboarding experience that ServiceNow has created for its new hires which is by far the best onboarding experience I’ve ever had, and hundreds of others share my sentiment!
How do you take care of your mental health in an all virtual work environment?
Here again, I spoke about something we do in ServiceNow which is the no email, no slack, no meetings Friday. While I have to admit we don’t follow this a 100%, having a day designated where you don’t have a ton of meetings, and can do some uninterrupted work, and log off early when all of it is done helps your mental health greatly.
How are Lean principles applied to software development?
Lean principles have their origin in automotive manufacturing, and they were translated to software development by identifying types of waste that occur in the software development process akin to the manufacturing process, and then making efforts to eliminate or reduce these wastes. As an example – “Inventory” is identified as one of the wastes in the Toyota Production System’s Manufacturing Wastes, and the equivalent in software development is “Partially Done Work”, and hence the emphasis on limiting WIP (Work in Progress). This paper on software development waste is a very useful starting point to understand this.
How do you deal with workplace incivility?
The question was more situational, but the situation the individual found himself was that he was facing rudeness, and general incivility in his workplace. Anger, fear and sadness are the three negative emotions that you usually encounter at work, and this MIT Sloan paper on smart ways to respond to negative emotions at work is one of the best resources I’ve found on the topic, and one that I continue to read when I find myself in similar situations.
How useful is an MBA in the software industry?
For this one, I didn’t use many references, and primarily talked about the transferability of soft skills, and hard skills across industries, and disciplines, and how all knowledge is cumulative meaning one piece of knowledge builds on top of another, and when you learn something in one area it is often used in another area as well.
What is the utility of a standup ceremony in Scrum?
Mike Cohn does a great job of explaining the objective and mechanics of how to run a daily standup, and I highly recommend this post.
What kind of data do companies use to make decisions?
In response to this question I emphasized the need to appreciate the difference between outcomes and outputs, and understand that primarily organizations are interested in outcomes, so the most useful metrics are ones directly tied to outcomes and not outputs. This is a good paper to understand the difference between an outcome, and an output.
To wrap up, I’ll say that I had two activities and a whole set of slides prepared, but we never got past my introduction because the conversation flowed so naturally from one question to another, and I would absolutely have had it no other way, so my gratitude to everyone who attended, and I’m looking forward to interact with you again!